La Kermesse Héroique (aka Carnival in Flanders) (1935)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Jacques Feyder.

Starring:    

Françoise Rosay (Cornelia de Witte, Madame la Bourgmestre / Madame Burgomaster),  André Alerme (Korbus de Witte, le bourgmestre / The Burgomaster),  Jean Murat (Le duc d'Olivars / The Duke),  Louis Jouvet (Le chapelain / The Priest),  Lyne Clevers (La poissonnire / The Fish-Wife),  Micheline Cheirel (Siska),  Maryse Wendling (La boulangre / The Baker's Wife),  Ginette Gaubert (L'aubergiste / The Inn-Keeper's Wife),  Marguerite Ducouret (La femme du brasseur / The Brewer's Wife),  Bernard Lancret (Julien Breughel),  Alfred Adam (Josef Van Meulen, le boucher),  Pierre Labry (L'aubergiste / The Inn-Keeper),  Arthur Devre (Le poissonnier / The Fishmonger),  Marcel Carpentier (Le boulanger / The Baker),  Alexander D'Arcy (Le capitaine / The Captain).

a French comedy set during the 1616 Spanish invasion of Flanders

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The action is set in Boom, Flanders in 1616 when Spanish ruler under Philip III was becoming less oppressive.  The horrors of war, however, remained in the memories of the people of the Low Counties.  The theme is not drawn from history.  The serio-comic narrative is set in a small town with its people looking forward to its carnival. 

 The people of the town are preparing for carnival.  The Deputy-Mayor, who owns a butcher shop, grabs his flag and starts walking to town hall.  The Mayoress prepares seven chickens for a dinner for the her husband the Mayor and his guests.  She is helped by her 16 year old daughter, Siska, and a number of servants.  Siska tells her mother Cornelia that Jean Breughel, the painter, is going to ask father for permission to marry his daughter. 

Jean is currently painting a picture of the city fathers, including the mayor and the deputy-master.  The Deputy-Mayor comes in late.  There is squabbling between the Mayor and the Deputy-Mayor and the Deputy-Mayor and Jean.  The Mayor takes a break.  He talks with the Deputy Mayor telling him that he wants him to buy his cattle strictly from him (the Mayor).  In return the Mayor is letting the Deputy-Mayor marry his daughter Siska. 

Siska comes to see Jean.  She asks him if he has asked her father yet.  Not yet, but he will now.  Jean goes in just as the Mayor gives his word of honor on the the deal.  Outside the Deputy-Mayor sees Siska waiting and goes to greet her.  The Deputy-Mayor gets carried away.  He talks about her father giving consent to the marriage.  Siska thinks he's talking about her and Jean and wonders how he found out about it.  The Deputy-Mayor says they will be married in a month, but he wants to kiss her now.  He tries his hardest, but Siska slaps him and leaves.  The Deputy-Mayor says:  "Women are so changeable."  He chases after Siska but falls on the steps hurting himself. 

Jean finally pops the question to the Mayor, but dad says it's "too late".  And, moreover,  he won't have Siska marrying an artist.  There are to be no paupers in his family.  Dejected Jean look for Siska but she's gone.  Everyone sits for the painting, except for the Deputy-Mayor.  He is late again.  Standing for the group portrait, the Deputy-Mayor keeps  moving due to all his aches and pains from the fall.  Jean accuses him of deliberately moving around.  He gets so frustrated with the Deputy-Mayor that he says he quits. 

Siska tells her mother that the butcher tried to kiss her.  Mom says he must be drunk.  And he also said that he and she will be married in a month and that dad agreed to this.  Cornelia becomes very angry and she goes to have a word with her husband.  Her husband and the Deputy-Mayor are leaving the town hall.  The Deputy-Mayor asks if he has told his wife yet.  The Mayor says he doesn't need to because he's the master of the house.  When Cornelia arrives she starts scolding her husband.  She asks him if he does trade in daughters now?  And now he has made their daughter cry.  They argue on the walk home.  Apparently this is very common because everyone stops their work and comes out to watch and listen to the argument. 

All of a sudden three Spaniards ride through the middle of town to the town hall.   The politicians all sit down and take a regal pose in preparation for the entry of the Spaniards.  The leader of the three comes in and throws a document on the table in the room.  He then looks at the huge painting and throws some drink on it.  He leaves.  The Spaniards ride out as fast as they came in. 

The Mayor is very worried.  To torment him, Cornelia tells him that the enemy always hangs the Mayor first.  The Mayor returns to town hall and reads the document.  It says:  Don Pedro de Guzman, Duke of Olivieres, Ambassador of His Most Catholic Majesty will spend the night at Boom, with his entourage and escort.  The Mayor shouts to his men:  "Officers of the Guild of Saint Cyprien, rally round the flag!"   One man says maybe it won't be too bad because passing soldiers brings passing trade.  Someone objects that the Spanish sacked Antwerp in a night. 

Still another man says the town will be pillaged and the women violated.  He then describes a fanciful account of what will happen when the Spanish arrive.  There is a fight in the middle of Main Street.  Only a very small resistance is set up against the Spanish.  The Spanish break into houses grabbing the women.  Cornelia and Siska are grabbed.  Cornelia hits her attacker with a log from the fireplace and gets away.  A woman being gang-raped is also stabbed by one of her assailants.  Citizens are tortured, including the Mayor himself.  Other citizens are hanged and their bodies left there as a lesson to others.  The speaker concludes that if there is the slightest bit of resistance, the town residents will all be killed. 

That was a very scary portrait for sure.  All the citizens scurry around taking anything of value into their houses and shops.  All the shops are closed down.  Outside Siska's house Jean whistles for her.  She signals for him to come upstairs.  Jean is very worried about the oncoming Spaniards.  He tells Siska that this may be the last time they will be able to see each other.  Mother overhears some of this conversation and tells the couple to stop being silly. 

Dad and the Deputy-Mayor come in.  Cornelia wants to know what's going on, but her husband only tells her:  "Civic interests don't concern women."    The two go into a private room and close the door in Cornelia's face.  This make her mad.  Similar scenarios occur in the other households in town.  When the women ask their husbands about what the men are planning,  all the husbands tell them that women should stay out of civic matter.  They are not capable of understanding such things. 

Two more of the town hall politicians arrive at the Mayor's house.  Cornelia goes with them up to the room where her husband is.  She goes in ahead of the two men.  She sees her husband acting like he's dead.  The Mayor has an idea that he will pretend that he is dead and the Spaniards will go away to another town.  Cornelia is very skeptical of this little charade. 

The town crier reads out the Mayor's list of rules for the occupation.  There is to be no resistance to the Spanish.  Everyone must remain calm and obedient.  The women start laughing at the men who say they will be in hiding from the enemy.  Cornelia shows up and tells the men why don't they just admit they are cowards.  A rifleman says he's only hiding to fight another day.  The women laugh at him.  Cornelia then speaks to the women.  Since the men have lost control of the situation, the women will save their town and set an example for all Flanders.  She tells the women to make sure the soldiers have plenty of liquor to drink.  She sends Siska and Jean up to the top of the tower to warn everyone when the Spanish are approaching.   

Cornelia gets all dressed up to greet the Spanish at the town gate.  At the gate they have put up a sign saying:  "Welcome to Our Visitors."  Siska and Jean see the Spanish coming and Jean waves a white bonnet at Cornelia.  With three other dressed-up women, Cornelia proceeds to the town gate.  Near the gate a great deal of liquor is available to be given to the soldiers.  And Cornelia has the key to the town all ready for the Spanish Duke.  

When the Spanish arrive the Duke comes out to see the women and receive his welcome.  The Duke says:  "Judging by this reception, our visit will be delightful."  The soldiers belly up to the bar, so to speak.  Cornelia tells the Duke that the town is in mourning for the late, lamented Mayor.  And now she is a widow.  She suggests that they go on to another town.  But the Duke's staff says that they need food and supplies and time to make repairs.  The Duke promises Cornelia that they will be out of town by dawn tomorrow. 

The soldiers march into the town.  The Spanish band plays a tune.  People look at the soldier marching in.  The Duke and the priest and the officers walk with the four members of the greeting committee.  The women line both sides of the street watching the soldier march by.  The soldiers set up their formations in the town square.  A woman says one of the soldiers stole a duck from her. They find the man and punish him by hanging him by his feet for twenty minutes. 

Inside the town hall the Duke and his staff admire Jean's painting.  Meanwhile the women vie for the men they want to stay at their houses.  Many of the officers stay in the inn.  The wife of the inn proprietor tells one officer that she will sew up something for him and she ends up having sex with him.  The servant Martha is sent to tell the Mayor that the "guests" have arrived.  The Mayor is taken aback by the use of "guests" for their Spanish occupiers.  The Duke and the priest arrive at the Mayor's house.  Cornelia shows them the way.  They go into the Mayor's bedroom.  The priest thinks that maybe he died from an epidemic and suggests burning the Mayor's body.  No!, says Cornelia.  To torment her husband she tells the Duke that sometimes death can be a blessing in disguise for it free others to do what they want.  The inn proprietress has sex with her second officer.  One of the four of the female greeting committee tries to have sex with one of the soldiers, but he is just not interested and gets rid of her. 

The Duke needs some slippers, so Cornelia goes up to get her husband's slippers.  The Mayor sarcastically says he hopes she's having fun (more or less at his expense).  Cornelia introduces Jean and Siska to the Duke.  The Duke says he knew Jean's father and saw Jean's panting in the town hall.  The inn proprietress has sex with her third officer, again under the guise of sewing.   Around town the husbands are getting jealous and quarrel with their wives.  Some of the soldiers are mercenaries from Switzerland and Italy, as well as other places.

A sergeant asks the inn owner about getting his uniform sewn.  He asks the proprietor where is his wife?  When the inn proprietor sees his wife, he sends her up to room 7 and tells her to be nice to the NCO.    So this would make four men at least for the inn proprietress.

Cornelia has a formal banquet for the Duke and the priest and a couple of officers.  The other guests are Cornelia and some other women.    The band plays for the Spanish soldiers so they can dance with the Flemish women.  The inn proprietor says an army is good for business.  One of the women at the formal dinner asks the priest to tell them all about the Inquisition.  He starts a tale of the time they had to whip a naked woman to get her to confess. 

With the Duke is a dwarf and his two monkeys.  The monkeys get loose and go upstairs and into the Mayor's room.  The dwarf comes seeking his monkeys and walks in to discover the ruse.  Now the Mayor has to over him 200 coins to keep him quiet, but the dwarf takes 400 coins.  When the priest sees the dwarf he notices his pant's pockets bulging.  So the dwarf has to bribe the priest not to tell.  He gives the priest 100 coins, but the priest takes 200. 

A Spanish Flamenco dancer performs for the crowd.   Cornelia really likes watching the dance. She takes a walk with the Duke, who tells her to call him Pedro.  Cornelia uses the time to ask the Duke to take command of her daughter in order to protect her from any harm.  The Duke agrees, so Cornelia tells him to command her daughter Siska to marry immediately the painter Jean.  The Duke agrees again, so Cornelia goes to find the Deputy-Mayor to prepare the paper work.  She goes to her husband's room and hears the Deputy Mayor tell the Mayor that he almost became a cuckold.  Cornelia comes into the room.  She tells her husband that Jean and Siska are to be married by the orders of the Duke.  The Mayor says:  "Over my dead body!"  She just tells the Deputy-Mayor to come with her, but he refuses.  The Duke comes into the room and hears the refusal and demands to know why.  Quickly the Deputy-Mayor agrees to go with Cornelia.   Meanwhile Jean and Siska go find the priest to marry them.  They find him and not long afterward they are married. 

One of the women is very upset.  She says the Spanish are supposed to rape and pillage and she's been waiting all day for this.  But nothing has really happened.  The Mayor tells the Deputy-Mayor to tell his wife to come to speak with him.  The dwarf, however, grabs the Deputy-Mayor and makes him his servant.  He has to take the dwarf to his home.  The dwarf and his two monkeys sleep in the bed of the Deputy-Mayor. 

The Deputy-Mayor tells the Mayor that his wife has been deceiving him while he slept.  He saw her go up to the room of the Duke.  The Mayor shouts that he will be avenged!  The two men go up to the Duke's room.  The Deputy-Mayor stands at the front door while the Mayor works his way around to the back.  But the Mayor runs into his wife breast-feeding her baby.  He wants to know how long this has been going on?  He is very suspicious of her.  The Mayor accidentally makes a loud noise and the Deputy-Mayor bursts through the front door.   He runs right into the Duke.  This makes him very nervous and he thinks up something fast.  He tells the Duke that he has been guarding him against an assassination attempt.  He adds that the Mayor has been deceiving him.  (This part is heard by the Mayor.)  But the Duke will hear nothing critical of the late Mayor.  The Duke's assistant shows up and the Duke gives him the high sign.  The assistant boots the Deputy-Mayor from the room and then boots him down the stairs.  Down at the bottom of the stairs the Mayor socks his assistant in the nose.

At dawn the drummer wakes everyone.  Many Spanish soldiers wish their Flemish lovers goodbye and they run to formation.  The Duke is dressed.  The priest also stayed overnight with a woman. When the soldiers start to leave, the Flemish crowd cheers them goodbye.  The Duke salutes Cornelia as he goes by.  She waves goodbye to him. 

After the Spaniards are gone, the Mayoress reads a thank you note from the Duke to the people.  He thanks the Flemish townspeople for their reception.  In gratitude he exempts Boom from taxes for one year.  The people wildly cheer.  Then, to save face for the Mayor and keep her out of hot water with him, she tells everyone that it was all done thanks to the Mayor.  The Mayor appears to the cheers of the crowd.  She looks on with a cynical grin on her face. 

 

Good movie.  It's better if you know the purpose of the movie.  They say it is a critique of the German occupation of Belgian territory during the First World War.  (Although i can't find any supporting data for this in Belgium history.)  This movie could only work as a critique of collaboration.  Otherwise, every Flemish person in this movie is just bad.  There are the men who are all cowards and terrible sexists and the women who would openly collaborate with an enemy through committing adultery.  The town would have to have the greatest gulf between men and women in the history of towns.  Yes, if one took the movie seriously, it wouldn't be funny at all.  Outright cowardice, collaboration, adultery, deceit  -- these are not funny, happy topics. 

In 1935 the movie was accused of being "Nazi inspired".  But when the Germans actually started occupying European countries, the Nazis banned the movie in Germany and the occupied countries.  And that makes sense because the movie criticizes collaboration with an occupying force. 

As a crazy comedy the movie is fun.  (But I was always upset by all the adultery of the women with their occupiers.  In real life, after the overthrow of the occupier in World War II, collaborating women had their hair cut off, were spat open and physically roughed up.  It was not fun at all for them.  Certainly these women did not have a cynical grin on their faces while they were being beaten.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Flanders is a region that today is located in present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

862 – creation of Flanders as a feudal fief in West Francia.

During the Middle Ages – Flanders' trading towns such as Ghent, Bruges and Ypres made Flanders one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe. The area also had great achievements in the arts.

Late 12th century – the County of Flanders is divided when its western districts fell under French rule.

1191 – the remaining parts of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighboring Hainaut.

1300-1302 – Flanders defeats a French attempt at annexation. It won the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk.

1304 – the Flemish uprising was defeated and Flanders remained part of the French Crown.

1348 – widespread population in Flanders as elsewhere in Europe because of the Black Death (bubonic plague).

1384 – the entire area passed to the dukes of Burgundy.

1477 – the area came under the Habsburg dynasty.

1549 – Holy Roman Emperor Charles V proclaimed the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 eternally uniting Flanders with the other lordships of the Low Countries in a personal union.

1556  --  when the Habsburg empire was divided among the heirs of Charles V, the Low Countries, including Flanders, went to Philip II of Spain, of the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg.

1556-1598 – reign of Philip III, son of Charles III, in Flanders.

1568 – the Seventeen Provinces that signed the Union of Utrecht started a revolt against Spain’s King Philip II, known as the Eighty Years’ War.

1568-1648  --  the period of the Eighty Years' War. 

1575 – bankrupted by the cost of keeping armies in the Low Countries, the Spanish Treasury stopped paying the troops.

By 1577 – Dutch Protestants led by William of Orange governed virtually all the Netherlands.

Philip II raised money to send his nephew the Duke of Parma with a powerful army to regain control.

1581 – the Parma's 'Army of Flanders' started a plan to capture the rebel towns one-by-one. Spanish troops started fighting the rebels.  Spain conquered Bruges and Ghent. These were professional troops, the best in Europe. The southern provinces were soon subdued - the loyal Catholic leaders of the French-speaking towns had been uneasy allies with the Dutch Protestants. 

By 1585 – Parma captured the key port of Antwerp, and driven the Dutch rebels back to their northern strongholds. Their situation was desperate and morale low - Queen Elizabeth sent English troops to rescue them from collapse.

1585 – the important port town of Antwerp fell to the Spaniards.

The Spanish Crown re-conquered the important "rebel" provinces of Flanders and Brabant.

1648 – Spain did not recognize the Dutch Republic until this date.

1588 – Philip II sent the Spanish Armada to escort the Duke of Parma's army across the North Sea to invade England. The Armada failed.

The English and Dutch gained new confidence in attacking the Spanish at sea around the world.

A war broke out between England and Spain that forced the Spanish troops to halt their advance.  This ended the Eighty Years' War for the Southern Netherlands.

1598-1621 – Isabella Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II, reigns in Flanders.

1609 – Spain finally agreed to a truce.

1648 – the Peace of Westphalia. End the war for the United Provinces (the Netherlands proper).  Spain did not recognize the Dutch Republic until this date.

1659, 1668, 1678 – successive treaties left the western districts of Flanders under French rule.

 

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